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Young activists, who make up the Bali Youth Force, at the recent 9th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific. The conference was held in Bali, Indonesia.





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Ready for the task

Young people are now
on the right path when
it comes to having
their voices heard in
the battle against HIV/
Stories by NIKI CHEONG

E OFTEN hear of the need to engage

young people and listen to them
because they are the leaders of the
future. Youths who attended the recent 9th
International Congress On AIDS In Asia And
The Pacific (Icaap), however, came out strongly
to assert that they should not have to wait to
We are not leaders of the future, we are
leaders now, said Indias Himakshi Piplani, 21.
Himakshi and many of her peers believe
they have the knowledge, skill and ability to
make informed decisions, especially when it
comes to issues which affect their generation,
and in the context of the conference, on HIV/
They were part of the Bali Youth Force, a
coalition set up by youth networks and organisations from Asia to ensure significant youth
participation at the 9th Icaap held in Bali,
Indonesia, last week. Over 130 young people
(and over 50 contributions on the online
consultation) from around the region gathered
for a two-day forum prior to the conference to
discuss youth issues. They also compiled a list
of recommendations which included their
wish for a more meaningful youth participation in programmes and policy making processes that affect their lives.
This was the sentiment that was highlighted
throughout the regional conference, where
over 3,500 delegates gathered to discuss HIV/
AIDS issues.
The recommendation that young people not
only be given a voice, but also an equal say in
decision and policy making, is not unreasonable.
Many international documents endorse this
recommendation including the UNGASS
Declaration of Commitment on HIV and AIDS,
Convention on the Rights of the Child and the
Millennium Development Goals.
It makes sense to engage a group with one
of the highest rates of HIV infection in the
world. The 2007 statistics indicate that in
Malaysia, four young people are infected with
HIV every day, but we often dont hear from
these young HIV+ persons.
Still, young people have come a long way
when it comes to having their voice heard in

Participants walk past a poster at the 9th International Congress On Aids in Asia And The
Pacific (Icaap) in Bali, Indonesia. More than 3,000 delegates from 65 countries
participated in the conference to find ways to reduce the rate of AIDS infections.

Liping Mian from China is the Youth

Campaign Coordinator for the World AIDS

checking out
a display of
pictures of
infected with
HIV at the
conference in

the battle against HIV/AIDS. There were many

outspoken young people at the 9th Icaap.
A young person defined by the United
Nations as between the ages of 15 and 24
spoke for the first time at an Icaap opening
plenary session.
Chinas Liping Mian, 24, the Youth Campaign
Coordinator for the World AIDS Campaign,
noted the milestone but was quick to remind
her peers not to rest on their laurels and to be
wary of tokenism.
I think the idea of tokenism is still very
common when it comes to young people being
involved in HIV issues. They are invited to sit in
sessions without being included in discussions
or allowed to contribute.
We often sit there without influence, she
said, adding that even when the opportunity
arises, only certain young people are invited to
the meeting.
Throughout the conference, the Bali Youth
Force addressed youth issues at almost every
opportunity they got.
These were young people who brought with
them a wealth of knowledge and experience.
Many are involved in various projects at
community, national and international level.
Some are involved in peer-to-peer projects,
some deal with MSM (men who have sex with


THE family is an important unit of society, and their role in
preventing HIV infection and supporting those infected is
crucial. At the recent 9th International Congress on AIDS in
Asia and the Pacific (Icaap), young activist Liping Mian spoke
about the need for young people to engage their parents in
issues relating to the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
If parents dont understand the importance of HIV education and sex education in schools, they wont be able to
understand why young people are calling for it, she said.
Universiti Putra Malaysia student Jason Yeo said that his
parents were initially very concerned when he started working with HIV/AIDS issues.
They were afraid Id be infected and worried for my safety
since I had to meet sex workers, drug users and transgendered
people, he said.
However, they relented after Jason explained his HIV and
AIDS work, and assured them that he will take good care of
It was only when Jason started talking to his mother about
his work that he realised there was a lot that she was unfamiliar with. For instance, Jasons mother didnt understand how
condoms work until he explained it to her.
Liping said her mother didnt know about condoms too.
A lot of parents have never used a condom, and dont know
how to use it, said Liping who felt it was important for her
mother to know about ways of protecting herself from being
infected by HIV.
Mel Rose L. Dingal, 25, from the Phillipines, said that her
parents were very strict with her until she started sharing her
experiences with them.
They are very open, my parents. Sometimes they talk to
friends and our neighbours about sexuality, condom use.
She added that sometimes, it is not that parents are not
interested in engaging their children in dialogue about sexual
health, but instead, they dont know how to.
men) issues, while some work with injecting
drug users (IDUs).
As youths, they also understand how their
peers are most vulnerable to HIV infections.
The challenge for organisations working on
HIV/AIDS is on how to include and engage
young people effectively. This is
indeed the case with the Malaysian
AIDS Council (MAC), an umbrella body
that supports and coordinates the
efforts of organisations working on
HIV/AIDS issues in Malaysia.
Its executive director Bakhtiar
Talhah said that MAC has a youth
department which sad to say, is
rather dormant.
Bakhtiar said that MACs efforts in
engaging young people are ad hoc
and sporadic, as it is the Ministry of
Education and Ministry of Higher
Educations task to educate young
people on HIV and AIDS.
Instead, MAC chooses to work
with youths with certain expertise,
such as medical students who are
able to assist the organisation
with their work on most at-risk
groups such as IDUs.
Then, there is the issue of
generating and sustaining youths
interest in HIV/AIDS.
The recommendation by the
Bali Youth Force is about ensuring adult-youth partnership,
says Sri Lankas Milinda
Rajapakshya, 24.
There needs to be a longterm mechanism to ensure
youth participation.
He cites knowledge transference, acceptance of the fact that young people can
contribute to the cause and youth ownership



Jason Yeo (left)
and Chung Han
Yang took were
delegates at the
recent 9th

Thats why it is necessary when you acquire knowledge that

you share it with others and not just keep it to yourself.
At one of the youth dialogues during the 9th Icaap, Pakplus
(a network of people living with HIV/AIDS in Pakistan) director
Shukria Gul spoke about being an HIV+ mother and her
concerns for her children.
In her case, she feels it is important for her children to be
aware of the issues not only because they too might be at risk,
but also because she will need them to care for her.
So we have discussions, sometimes I give them booklets
and they read it. I tell them that this is important for you and
me, she explains.
Parents can also be used as advocates to help raise awareness on HIV/AIDS.

as some of the strategies.

There are young people who are willing to
step up and dedicate their time and effort to a
cause they feel strongly for. Some HIV+ youths
have even boldly offered to put a face to HIV/
AIDS by publicly declaring their status and
talking openly about living with their infection.
It is now up to them to find their way into
partnerships with the current stakeholders,
who are mostly made up of the older generation, so that they can protect their peers from
HIV infection and support those who are

Indias Himakshi Piplani (right) and Nepals

Ajay Kumar Uprety.

In 2008, 7,400 people globally were

infected with HIV every day; 3000 of them
were between the ages of 13 and 24.
In Malaysia, 1,766 were newly
infected in the first half of 2008; 507 of
them were aged between 13 and 29.